For 24 hours at the flagpole, the university’s ROTC guards kept the Veteran’s Day tradition.
Guards from the Air Force and Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps changed shifts every 15 minutes from 11 a.m. Saturday to 11 a.m. Sunday at the Old Main Flagpole near Shryock Auditorium. The vigil tradition honored veterans, prisoners of war and those who remain missing in action, said Jake Bliss, a senior from Rockford studying criminology and criminal justice and a cadet in the university’s Air Force ROTC.
The ceremony began with the presentation of the colors and a prayer. Michelle Thorson, a junior from Champaign studying speech communication, sang the National Anthem.
The keynote speaker was 22-year service member and retired U.S. Navy Capt. Ed Phillips. Phillips, a visiting assistant professor of aviation management and flight, spent 15 years in the Navy Reserve and served seven years of active duty.
He spoke of Navy experiences he said he will never forget and offered gratitude to veterans as he assured them they earned it.
“Memorial day was designed to celebrate those who have given their lives in service,” he said. “Veterans Day is a day to celebrate all of us who have served anytime, anywhere.”
Phillips said watching the guard changing honors those who gave their lives for the country. He ended his speech by offering veterans some words to remember.
“You’ll never forget some of your military experiences. How you respond to events of the war will impact your career.Managing your family life is important,” he said. “Cadets should know they will screw up at some point. Military service members leave a positive impact. You have to remember to have fun.”
Merlissa Gordon, of Carterville, attended the ceremony with her mother Elizabeth and two daughters in her father’s honor. Gordon said her father was killed in the Soviet war in Afghanistan in February 1987.
“We’ve honored this day, his birthday and my parents’ anniversary each year since he died because we want his legacy to live on, and we want the girls to grow up hearing wonderful things about him even though they never got to meet him,” Gordon said.
Lt. Col. Melanie Friedman is the SIU Air force ROTC detachment commander and was chief of the Intelligence Branch of Combined Air Operations Center in Uedem, Germany. Friedman said Veterans Day was approved by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to become a national holiday June 1, 1954 so the nation could pay appropriate respect and gratitude to all U.S. veterans.